Expanded visa-free transit program could bring more flights to Vancouver International Airport

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Image: YVR Airport / Shutterstock

Changes to Canada’s visa-free transit program could strengthen Vancouver International Airport’s position as a major hub in the Americas.

The federal government’s expanded China Transit Program allows passengers traveling on flights departing from airports in Tokyo and Seoul to transfer to connecting United States flights at YVR without holding a Canadian visa or passing through customs. Passengers on their way to other destinations would wait at a special lounge with shops and restaurants for their next flights.

The program creates more demand for additional flights and new routes to YVR while also providing the Vancouver Airport Authority and the local economy with additional revenue as well as a greater ability to combat competition from Calgary and Seattle. Airlines will benefit from being able to fill more seats and Canadian tourists leaving YVR will have more destination options to choose.

“This is huge step in the right direction for YVR, British Columbia and Canada,” said Craig Richmond, President & CEO, Vancouver Airport Authority, in a statement. “The expansion of the China Transit Program will make YVR more attractive to transiting travellers and ultimately increase YVR’s air service and passenger growth.”

Currently, the China Transit Program is only available to passengers departing from Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Manila and Taipei. Negotiations for an expanded program between the Airport Authority and the federal government have been ongoing for years, and there is a “commitment” between the two parties to grow the program to other cities in China.

“We will continue to work closely with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Canadian Border Services Agency and our other industry partners to progressively expand visa-free transit to the U.S. and eventually between Asia and Latin America,” Richmond added.

If the China Transit Program is expanded to other Chinese cities, YVR could see as many as 50 additional flights per week between Chinese airports and the Americas through Vancouver.

The Chinese air travel market is leading the world in growth, spurred by a flourishing middle class, has surged from 229 million passengers in 2009 to 353 million in 2014. More than 80 Chinese airports have been built over the last five years to accommodate outbound demand to global destinations such as Vancouver.

“In 2014 we saw overnight entries from China alone up 26.2 per cent compared to 2013,” said Naomi Yamamoto, B.C. Minister of State for Tourism and Small Business. “Ongoing expansion of visa-free transiting programs improves air access for our tourism industry as well as secures flights between YVR and emerging tourism markets in Asia.”

An expanded Chinese Transit Program to more Chinese cities would generate 2,800 jobs and $167.5 million in GDP for the local economy over the first five years.

In addition, at a Vancouver Board of Trade meeting last fall, Richmond said flight routes to 10 new cities and destinations in the United States and South America are within sight due to the program.

The expanded China Transit Program also applies for Toronto International Airport, the nation’s largest airport. Vancouver International Airport is still the second largest, recording approximately 19.36 million passengers in 2014 – a new record for the airport.

Strong passenger traffic growth at YVR is expected to continue this year.

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Kenneth Chan Deputy Editor & Social Media Manager at Vancity Buzz. He covers stories pertaining to local architecture, urban issues, politics, business, retail, economic development, transportation, infrastructure, and anything else that makes a difference in the lives of Vancouverites. Kenneth is also a Co-Founder of New Year's Eve Vancouver. Connect with him at kenneth[at]vancitybuzz.com
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